Published On: February 1, 2010

What Does Shakespeare Have To Do With Sustainability?

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By Juliana Lopes

Solitaire Townsend left the stage to found Futerra, the pioneering British consultancy in communication for sustainability.

“The time is out of joint: O cursed spite, That ever I was born to set it right!” said Hamlet in the Shakespearean classic. Apart from the fatalistic tone in the quote, there are more similarities than you could possibly imagine between the reality portrayed by the English bard and these times of global warming.

Just like the character Hamlet, today’s generation finds itself faced with a huge dilemma: break with the traditional model for doing business, assuming the risks inherent to any change, or insist on business as usual, under the penalty of taking the planet to the brink of collapse.

The quote from Shakespeare at the beginning of this article dedicated to Solitaire Townsend was not used without reason. Cofounder of Futerra, she is an actress and, before engaging in the corporate social responsibility movement (CSR), dedicated years of research to the works of the British playwright. When working on the development of CSR strategies, she realised that the biggest challenge was not about tools and processes, but the reporting of environmental issues. That is where Shakespeare comes into the story. The great merit of the writer was to establish a dialogue with his time and his people, causing the audience to allow itself to be seduced by the characters and stories that are mirrored in everyday life. Sustainability lacks such an approach; the actress believes.

Solitaire reached this conclusion in a round about way. She says that once, at home, she was struggling with the task of reading, by the end of the night, three or four quite dense studies on human rights. However, the TV series “Friends” vied for her attention. That’s when she realised, with some embarrassment, that she was more interested in watching the programme than reading all those reports. “We look for information on sustainability not because we feel attracted to or like the theme, but because we want to be better people and we are concerned about the planet. The challenge is to make the subject as attractive as a show or a soap opera,” she says.

In Solitaire’s opinion, the language related to sustainability hampers the situation.

Breaking down that barrier has become her obsession. To this effort, she has invoked her ability to adapt the texts of Shakespeare for ordinary people to understand. She assesses that it does not just matter what businesses are doing to prevent climate change, but what their plans are to survive this reality. As a communicator, she knows that changes in behaviour are difficult. Furthermore, people are complicated and do not always react as expected. “Everything involved in sustainability is more important, more difficult and more exciting than in other areas,” she points out.

Solitaire has 10 rules for communicating sustainable development:

1. Show the big picture, make connections, demonstrate the long-term thinking, and clarify myths
2. Be technically correct, reliable, show transparency and provide real facts
3. Be cool, sexy, become the trend
4. Be part of a global movement for change.
5. Use and abuse good stories to capture people’s attention, empathy and emotion are powerful tools.
6.  Be optimistic, show that sustainable development is achievable. Approaches that arouse feelings of guilt should be avoided.
7. Awaken pride. Sustainable development makes people better.
8. Change is for everyone, so we need to break stereotypes, use messages and images that include everyone.
9. We need more heroes and communication for sustainability should project icons that awaken the feeling of “I want to be like them”.
10.  Link great ideas to day-to-day life, placing them in a familiar context.

Juliana Lopes works for  “Idéia Socioambiental” magazine.

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